My long-time friend Jason Lemkin is on the verge of launching a spectacular SaaS conference called SaaStr this week. What Jason has achieved in no time flat in VC is astounding. Without inventing the browser he has single-handedly created a personal VC brand on a shoestring.
And as I’ve written about before – building a personal brand is extremely important in today’s competitive job market. Here’s how he did it.
Oh, but the weird trick first. Jason is a master of communications and that’s what this post is about. I recently saw him Tweet this so I thought it would be a great title for my post on his spectacular early success in building his VC profile and bona fides
I’m gonna to start all SaaStr posts with “One Weird Trick To …” from now on and see how much better they perform
— Jason M. Lemkin (@jasonlk) January 31, 2015
First. Some background.
In 2006 when I was a budding entrepreneur building my second startup I ran into a young (ish) enthusiastic founder of an electronic signature company called EchoSign. I was building a document management company and he was building a document signature company.
I know it will be hard for you to believe in 2015 but in 2006 Palo Alto (where I lived) was kind of dead. We had just gotten over the dot com crash and return to normalcy where nobody seemed to give a shit about tech companies any more. And we were just entering the “TechCrunch era” with a little known blogger named Michael Arrington hosting parties at his rental house in Atherton and Robert Scoble first appeared naked in a shower (in this case with Shel Israel – and this was the exact party. So many people I now know were there. I had just moved back from a decade in London and knew nobody. I was Johnny NoMates.
But during that period I got to know Jason. We shared information about building sales teams. Hiring inside reps, how to comp field sales reps and how to balance leads across both. We attended Saleforce.com parties. We were Under the Radar. Nobody knew us. I had been doing SaaS for 7 years. Jason has also done startups for a long time. We chatted about the shitty things VCs did to us. We were in the trenches together.
I sold my company to Salesforce.com and although I didn’t continue my career there I have always held the company and it’s leadership in high esteem (even if I have a few fun private stories from back in the day). Jason sold his company to Adobe. Many years later the companies DropBox, Box & Docusign would emerge as huge industry behemoths. I’m sure we both felt the same. Proud of our accomplishments. Wondering how far we could have taken things. And in awe of those that got to a level higher than we got.
If you’re reading this you’ll now likely know that I became a VC in 2007 with what is now called Upfront Ventures. My long-time mentor – Yves Sisteron – brought me on board and was gracious enough to give me the space to build out my own personal brand without overshadowing his amazing accomplishments. I thought about how I wanted to do that. I thought about the fact that I knew SaaS better than most. Maybe that could be my brand? I thought about the fact that I was starting in LA? Maybe I could be SoCal guy?
I had no idea I’d eventually be boxed out of the SaaS branding by Jason (SaaStr) and the LA branding by my partner Greg Bettinelli with #LongLA ! Both have done an amazing job of defining themselves in venture in a short period of time. At the time both SaaS and LA seemed risky branding to me so I settled on what I felt was most authentic – Both Sides of the Table. I reference to the fact that I had walked in entrepreneurs shoes but now found myself on the other side. And was willing to be as open about it as Brad Feld, my inspiration, was.
Many years later I sat down with Jason again as he was contemplating getting into venture. I have no idea what I said to him but obviously I wasn’t able to talk him out of it and he joined Storm Ventures where he had a long-standing relationship not unlike my own with Upfront.
In all honesty – I think Jason and I are sort of joined at the hip in that way in that we’ve had such a similar journey. And if I didn’t say he took the venture world by Storm I would be remiss (yes, my kids would say “dad humor,” I know, I know).
Jason charted his own course though. I was an early fan and heavy user of Quora back in the day and used to get huge benefit out of the conversations I had there. But Jason took Quora usage to 11. And instantly I had people I had relationships with or even portfolio companies all asking me for intro’s to Jason. Many people knew that I knew him due to our Twitter conversations but also because I had him speak at every one of our conference. He was always one of the most sought after guys.
In a crowded market – venture capital – where it is hard to break out and be noticed. Jason decided to take a position. He would double down on what he knew better than nearly any VC – SaaS. He decided to wrap himself in it, provide unparalleled information about SaaS businesses and push all of his chips into the pile.
Time will judge Jason’s VC career on returns just like it does all of us. But returns are partly a function of whether one can get access to great deal flow. It is a function of whether entrepreneurs want to work with you and seek you out. It’s a function of whether you can help early-stage founders through the perilous early days of hiring your first staff, pricing your product, marketing / branding and all of the minutiae that determines success and failure.
Jason has build a brand for himself and one that he eventually will have to incorporate into Storm Ventures, which is tricky but I’m sure he’ll manage. There were many years where people questioned whether VCs should build brands. Question not. Do.
On these early signs I’m long Jason Lemkin.
And was fortunate enough to get a reference call from an LP asking me this very question. And I gave enthusiastic support.
Jason. On the eve of your big event I will be sitting in a quite room drinking a small glass of bubbly and toasting your early accomplishments. And waiting for you to send me your Glengarry leads. We deserve to sit on a board together. I think we’d be unstoppable
Congrats on your success. Knock ‘em dead.
Editor’s note: Funny to read Mark’s story about Jason. It’s also Mark’s own story. I’m lucky enough to have seen both from early stages. In fact in late 2012 when I invited Jason as guest blogger here, I told him:
” You’re gonna pull a Mark Suster”.
And he did. 🙂
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)